Of all the high-priced talent and personalities who may or may not live up to their reputations on the 2012 Yankees, one player in particular seems to incessantly enrage the fan base. Any moment he takes the field, the fans see him as an accident waiting to happen. Debuting with the Yanks in 2010, Eduardo Nunez has been somewhat of an enigma.
Touted in the minors as a defensive asset over his offensive skill set, those credentials have flip-flopped since becoming a semi-regular Yankee. Should the front office dangle Nunez as trade bait or does he simply need more time to adjust to the Major Leagues?
Statistical history shows that Nunez makes the majority, if not all, of his mistakes on the left side of the infield (shortstop and third). At those positions, he has a career .925 fielding percentage. While not terrible, his most glaring deficiencies are revealed in his UZR, or ultimate zone rating. UZR takes batted balls and assigns probability that a particular position will successfully field it. If he was successful, the fielder gets credit above the MLB average. If the player does not, negative credit is assigned. The closer to zero a player’s UZR is, the more he is considered an average defender at his position.
At third base, Nunez as a career -7.4 in 388.1 innings while he holds a -9.6 in 433.2 innings at short. Taking it one step further, UZR/150, which adjusts the UZR to an expected result for 150 games played in one season, translates into -30 (for shortstop and third base). That’s a lot of projected mistakes for a starter.
Another way to gauge Nunez’s defensive skills is by looking at his RZR, or Revised Zone Rating. This statistic looks at the percentage of balls hit in a player’s defensive zone that successfully gets converted into an out. Despite facing nearly twice as many plays at shortstop, his RZR sits at .780 vs. .628 at third base. His positional mentor, Derek Jeter, possesses a career .809 RZR. Consider those numbers with the fact that there are advanced scouts who insist that Jeter has lost more than a step or two defensively (and is 13 years older).
Another advanced defensive stat worth a look is Nunez’s career -7.4 ErrR at shortstop (-2.1 at 3rd). That figure translates into just over 7 runs his defensive play has cost, on average, to the Yankees during his short time with the club. On the contrary, Nunez has played 17 games (83 innings) at second base and is yet to make an error. He is also yet to make an error in five games (18 innings) played in the outfield.
Offensively, Nunez is an average player. While playing 30 games in 2010, Nunez had an OBP of .321, a respectable .280 batting average, and scored 12 runs. In 2011 he played in a career high 112 games posting a .313 OBP, hit .265, and scored 38 runs. Both his batting average and on base percentage hovered near or slightly below the league average.
One asset Nunez brings to the Yankees is speed. For the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Nunez has converted 27 of 33 stolen base attempts. Nunez is also an above-average contact hitter. Looking at his swinging strike percentage, he has a 5.1 percent swing/miss rate that is below the league average of 8.5 percent. His O-Swing (swings on pitches out of the strike zone) and Z-Swing (swings in the strike zone) sit at 33.8 and 61.8 percent respectively. His contact percentage is rated at 88.7 percent, which is well above the league average of 80 percent. Clearly Nunez is a pretty disciplined hitter who makes good contact.
After six games this season and nine at-bats, Nunez is hitting .444 with a .899 OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) and one stolen base. Defensively, he’s played four games in the infield (eight innings at short and 20 innings at third) and one game (.1 innings) in the outfield. Nunez currently posts a .800 fielding percentage at shortstop, making his only error of the season at that position (errors were not dwelled upon as assigning an error to a player is completely subjective to the scorekeeper). He still has time to hone his defensive play and could evolve into a better hitter.
As it stands now, putting Nunez in the infield for an extended period of time seems like a big risk, as he’s yet to prove he can be dependable. Nunez has and will continue to excel as a base runner, making him an excellent pinch-running option. Nunez could also prove useful in at bats requiring hit-and-run or sacrifice scenarios. Outside of that, there really seems to be no permanent fit for Nunez on the Yanks besides role player. With no other viable options in the farm system for the heir to Jeter, the Yankees should continue to work with Nunez. Otherwise, Nunez could become a nice chip in a deal at the trade deadline of the off-season.